Alysia Montaño was a favorite in the 800-meter race during the 2012 London games. Then age 26, she had been competing against some of the world’s top runners for nearly half her life. But in the race Alysia came in fifth. She suspected something was up. Three years later, the World Anti-Doping Agency released a report revealing that many athletes had tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs leading up to the London games—and that the test results had probably been washed away with bribes. Two of the suspected athletes placed in front of Alysia in her event, robbing her of a bronze medal and potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars in endorsement deals. After the London heartbreak, Montaño considered quitting. Instead, she gave birth to daughter Linnéa, famously (and remarkably) competing in the 2014 USA Outdoor Track and Field Championships while eight months pregnant. The new mom says her own mom, Yvonne Johnson, has made it possible for her to train for Rio, where she hopes to win her first Olympic medal.
Real Simple: What are your thoughts looking back on London?
Yvonne Johnson: I am in awe of Alysia’s integrity. I can remember the year before, she had told me she thought something was happening that was not right.
Alysia Montaño: Yeah, it was 2011. I told you and Louis [Alysia’s husband] that they were doping. I was mad. I felt cheated. I had spent my entire life working to improve by increments of seconds, and all of a sudden these women who were not really among the most elite in the sport come out of nowhere and put up these times that are the best in the world. It was a struggle for me. I had to fight to stay in the sport.
Y.J.: It was devastating, because what can you do? If you tell people, it looks like you’re just coming up with excuses. I am so proud of you for still giving it your all. She suspected they were cheating, and she had her dream taken away, and she still shook hands with them. The integrity you showed blew me away. That’s a gift you give to Linnéa.
A.M.: Aww, thanks, Mama. Honestly, there’s no way I could have had a baby and then come back so fast if it wasn’t for my mom. After Linnéa was born, my husband and I moved down to my hometown [Santa Clarita, California] and got a place near her. She would come over and help me figure out how to balance being a mom and training for the Olympics. I’d go out and train in the afternoons with my husband. He’d be watching my form while my mom was home watching the baby. We stayed near her for a full year. She is the reason I will be in Rio.
Y.J.: I really appreciated that time you gave me. That year I had with my granddaughter was a gift.
A.M.: I knew I wanted my mom to be instrumental in raising Linnéa. When I was growing up, my aunts and uncles and grandma were always there making me feel like I could accomplish what I set out to do.
RS: What’s one thing you’ve learned from your mother?
A.M.: That when you’re a mom, it doesn’t end when your child becomes an adult. It’s forever your duty.
Y.J.: Being her mom has been fun, I have to say—even though I still get nervous when she races. I used to go so nuts, I’d race my feet along with her from my seat in the stands. Now I can compose myself. I run the track with her in my mind.
To learn more about all Olympic hopefuls, visit teamusa.org. The Olympics begin August 5.